Let’s take a cue from Nelson Mandela

Published 11:00 pm Friday, December 6, 2013

On Thursday, former South African President and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95.

Apartheid was established in South Africa following WWII. Under the apartheid system, whites and blacks were kept separate by law, and whites were given greater economic, educational and political opportunities.

Mandela rose to prominence in South Africa through his actions with the African National Conference during the Defiance Campaign of 1952 in which the ANC attempted to reverse apartheid policy through nonviolent protests.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

When the Defiance Campaign failed, Mandela established a militant wing of the ANC, the Umkhonto we Sizwe that attempted to overthrow the South African government by force.

In 1964, he was arrested, found guilty of sabotage and trying to violently overthrow the government, and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Despite demands from the international community for Mandela’s release, Mandela spent the next 27 years in prison. When he was finally released in 1990, the culture of South Africa had changed. It had become clear that the end of Apartheid was near. Racial tensions and violence had reached a boiling point, and, if the situation did not resolve itself quickly, South Africa would have eventually slipped in to a civil war.

When South African President F.W. de Klerk extended an invitation to Mandela to discuss peace talks between the ANC and the ruling government, Mandela was faced with a choice.

He could either reconcile with the people who had imprisoned him for 27 years, or he could allow anger to cloud his judgment. Mandela realized that without the help of the white Afrikaners, South Africa could never become whole.

Mandela took the high road and worked with his old enemies. He helped guide South Africa to its first fully inclusive election in 1994 where he was elected as president.

Today’s America has nowhere near as many wounds as apartheid South Africa had, but our politicians can still take a page out of Mandela’s book.

Partisanship has so divided our national government that it feels as if nothing can get done in Washington. The divide between Democrats and Republicans is not as extreme as the divide between whites and blacks, but the divide still exists.

What we need in America today is a leader who is willing to reach across that divide and unite the country in the same way that Mandela united South Africa.

Unfortunately, it seems as if our current leaders on both sides of the aisle are not up to that challenge. We have allowed partisanship and anger to cloud our better judgments.

Whether it is arguing over the Affordable Care Act or bickering over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, Congress has failed to do much of anything lately. Our politicians act as if their associates are their sworn enemies.

Yes, it is true that America has seen its fair share of eternal conflict. We have already fought one war amongst ourselves because of regional differences. Parts of the country were still segregated until the 1960s. But, we have never had to deal with the type of hate that Mandela and de Klerk guided South Africa through.

If a nation like South Africa can heal its historic wounds, if de Klerk and Mandela can become political allies, what does it say about America that we can’t pass things through a divided Congress?